Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

The super-awesome-beyond-amazing-Lexi goes to yet *another* clinic. This time with Blyth Tait.

*edited to warn - exhausted, 3h sleep, incredible amount of beautiful sunshine, extreme happiness with the day, less than 10h till I need to be back at the clinic, all totalled = excessively random babbling.  I'm posting anyways because it was requested and I won't have time to do a better job for several days, but consider yourself forewarned!*

Still with me?

I am so overwhelmed by how awesome my superstar pony is that I don't even really know where to start.

Lexi and I were off to the Blyth Tait clinic today.  I didn't tell my coach I was going.  You know it's not a wise life choice when you're not willing to tell your coach about it *g*   hahaha it would be fair to say I was a little trepidatious about this one; partially because, well, the last clinic was a comedy of errors that hurt for several days afterward.  And partially because a friend of mine did a clinic with Blyth in BC the two days before and while she loved it and had only good to say, she did happen to mention it was all about quality of the canter.

hmmmm the canter.  Right.  That three-beat gait that's supposed to be reasonably controllable out of which we ride two - 2.5 of three phases.  You know -- the one we can't do yet?  Right.  At home I'm not convinced we've ever made it more than one lap of the sand ring without falling apart.  Lucinda tried to get us jumping out of the canter -- we broke to trot nine times out of ten.  Had *one* successful canter course (and by "course" I think there were three jumps.  If you scroll down a post or two I'm sure you'll find out!).  At the end of stadium day she was trotting to the fence and cantering away all proud of herself, so at least I knew that'd be a possibility.

We also had a rather unfortunate dressage school earlier this week that left me with a pony who didn't want to move at all.  Booo.  So I spent the rest of the week trying to convince her that riding is fun.  By yesterday, I had my normal Lexi back.

Oh -- and our scheduled XC school got rained out when the property we were supposed to go to flooded *sigh*   In fact, I haven't jumped a thing since the Lucinda Green clinic.  Or even hacked *sigh*.  Love Canadian weather!

So yes, once again, we arrived at a clinic, completely unprepared.  Really, given that I sent my entries in for this one at the same time I did for Lucinda, this is not a surprise.  I did at least have it in my head that since Lissy's riders are both away at the moment, if today went horrifically, I could bring her for XC day.  But I think Lexi's going to stay and play :)

Our new best friends!
Lexi loaded really well but stressed out on the trailer :(  By the time we got there she was pretty seriously unhappy.  Fortunately she settled as soon as another horse arrived.  I think I need to make sure wherever we go next, we go with a buddy.

That being said -- our start was fairly undramatic.  Tacked her up without undo grief and we walked around the sandring until Blyth came.  She was alert and distracted, but not being silly.  I was actually super impressed.  In the introductions I was the last to go and freely acknowledged that we weren't really ready to be there.  Blyth's response though, suggested the day just might go well.  It was something along the lines of "well that's exactly the time to bring a horse to something like this.  Get them off property and let the experience life while in a no pressure situation.  How are they ever going to learn if you don't let them try things?  We'll just be very careful not to overface her."

Sweet.  What followed was a discussion about which the rest of the day would be based -- namely the quality of the canter.  Blyth wanted to see a minimum of three canters:  "the sneaky canter, the ordinary canter, and the GOING PLACES canter."  The emphasis was his - I wish I had it on video :)   Basically you need to be able to cruise, collect or extend as necessary without changing rhythm.

Historically, these clinics are the ones I find the most useful -- when the clinician focuses on quality of the canter both A - I feel successful since it's usually something I practice at home a lot, and B - I find a *ton* of improvement by the end.  hahaha I know those seem slightly contradictory but hey - welcome to my life.   However, in this clinic I was a little concerned due to our aforementioned complete *lack* of any sort of canter.  But que será, será.  Sobeit.

So the entire group starts cantering to the left.  Yeah left -- we have a shot of pulling that off.  Wait - group?  Uh oh...  Lexi's brain temporarily fell out her ears, especially when one of the heavier crosses (who was actually quite speedy) was coming near her.  But it was a comparatively minor brain fart and soon enough we were, indeed, cantering with the group!  Woohoo!   We can go home now :)
Look at us being all grown-up and cantering in a group!
But no, we have to change direction.  Tricky -- we have about a one in ten shot of picking up the right lead.  Ummm sure, why not :)  So we try and - FIRST try!  Woohoo!   I'm sure nobody else got why I was so enthusiastically patting my pony for picking up the canter, but this was a Very Big Deal.  And then she broke *sigh*   Cause really, we never canter very far and even less far on that lead.  But then we got it again!  Yeah!   Now while all this was going on we were supposed to be demonstrating circles in the sneaky canter and long sides in the going places canter but tbh, we were just trying to canter.  And with what we've got right now, I'm *always* aiming for a going places canter.  Blyth basically acknowledged that this was a bit beyond her at the moment and kindly turned a blind eye to our apparent blatant disregard for his instructions.  And after we broke a second time we never did regain the right lead.  Ah well.

So then it was time to jump.  Trot in to an X, canter away.  Maintain canter through the corner regardless of lead.  On the left rein.  Cool.  Actually did this pretty much like a pro star.  hahaha   Then change of direction, trot same X, but maintain a canter five strides to a vertical.  Our first effort was...  Pretty dodgy.  Lex kinda went "wait, two???  You're kidding right?"   And we approached the second one in a figure that an intoxicated dressage judge might consider a serpentine in a gait that roughly resembled a turtle crawl.  Yeah, it was ugly.  The *next* time however -- what a star.  Five strides, almost straight.  This horse is so friggin smart.

Next exercise -- same activity but in four strides.  Yeah, first try, nbd.  My mare's a superstar.  Even repeated it to prove it wasn't a fluke :)   "You better be careful, you keep riding like that, you might end up with a really nice horse."  hahaha line of the day *g*   For me anyways.

Then reverse direction and jump out of the canter - oxer to vertical.  Sure, why not >;-P   We're going left, it's all good.  The canter transition itself was really sticky, but once we got it, she jumped bravely and in the right number of strides :)   Then the line got extended to a mini-course by adding a turn back to a skinny (yeah for having done the LG clinic!  If we hadn't, that wouldn't have gone nearly as well!) and a bending line to the oxer.   Keep in mind, all these fences are *tiny* AND he was lowering the oxer for Lexi.  But still, she was cantering!  A LOT!  And jumping stuff!  And even seemed to be having fun :)
Superstar Greenbean!
Mini pause for another training discussion -- this time on the definition of impulsion.  Power with *control*.  Not just fast but into a contact, butt tucked underneath, that at any point he could ask for a halt or a gallop and expect the response on the next stride.  I found that image really worked for me -- it's easy to see how all too often you might have one option but not the other.  If that's the case, you don't have the correct balance and canter.   Lucinda had a similar take -- her line was that if a 5' fence appeared one stride in front of her, she wanted to always feel she'd be able to take it.  Same concept, but for me, I like the gallop/halt visual as it's one I can actually test.  If 5' fences are randomly appearing in front of me, I have bigger problems than the quality of my canter!  I was interested though to work through how two very different training techniques lead to the same results.

We did a little bit of work on jumping a single fence -- Blyth held up a changing number of fingers and the riders had to rhyme off how many at any given second as they approached.  The concept was forcing them to ride by feel not by eye.  If they couldn't stare at the jump, they couldn't fight for a distance.  All they could do was maintain the quality of the canter.  Every horse got the correct distance -- even those who'd been missing by scary margins earlier.
Our baby oxer :)
With everybody feeling like superstars (Blyth is definitely one of, if not *the* most positive clinician I've ever ridden with) we moved on to a simple figure-8 exercise over a single fence, focusing on tight turns on landing.  Lexi was *really* starting to feel tired at this point and I felt like I was pony-clubbing it to keep her going.  BUT - she nailed every lead change and did it several times.  Woohoo!
Jump out of a canter, land and turn?  No problem!
Interesting side note here -- when discussing whether to worry about her leads (the approach to the first was off the right and it just wasn't happening) the answer was no.  There's no physiological reason she can't do it and when she does get it, she can hold it.  She just needs to learn where her feet go.  Blyth pointed out that in the UK if you go watch the pros on their young horses in PT level, 75% of them will have sections on the wrong lead.  Then at couple levels higher, it's down to about 25%.  By I or A, 0.  He said it's just part of training and as they get better at it, it will be less of an issue.  But if you wait for everything to be perfect before you ever take a jump, your horse will never learn to jump.   Cool.  And sure enough, while we couldn't pick up the right lead on the flat, esp now that she was getting tired, she could land it every time.

From this we did some gymnastics -- an average three to a long one, with the last fence being an oxer and all three fences scary (marshmellows under the first and planks in the second and third).  Our first attempt was of the "just keep kicking" variety.  I'm definitely being sent back to pony club *g*  hahaha but I DID get her through on the first try!  It was all kinds of sticky and drunken and most definitely not in anything that even vaguely resembled a canter.  But we technically got over all three of them in the right order with no complete loss of forward momentum.   The second time?  Like a pro.  Seriously.  Three to a one, reasonably straight, only the slightest hesitation.  Did I mention my pony's a superstar?   And the time after that she took over and did all the work herself. hahaha sadly she seemed to think it sb a two to a one instead, but realizing that was a poor life choice, snuck in an extra one at the last second *g*   See, she DOES have a sneak canter.  It just has to be motivated by self-preservation.  hahaha

But what I really loved was that she was having fun and figuring things out.  Even tired, and she was very tired, she was all for this game.  We did it once more with text-book perfection (completely unbiased statement that) and then I called it and asked if we could be excused from the rest.  Blyth agreed and I dismounted, but kept Lexi in the ring both so I could hear the rest of the lesson and so she could continue to practice being quiet while other horses cantered and jumped around her.   They did the gymnastic another couple times and then one more course that involved a triple bar to a skinny (can we say forward and back?)  -- which by this point seemed easy.

So that was our day.  I put Lexi away, watched another group, took Lex for a walk around XC and another swim in the water obstacle -- WAY less drama on our course walk this time, and then watched the afternoon sessions.  All good.  But since this blog seems to be part story and part clinic report and, oh yeah, I'm tired enough that my internal editor that will SCREAM when I have long enough to reread this on - probably Thursday realistically - is off, there are a few random things that I want to add.

One was a comment Blyth made that just made me laugh for positive spin.  I have no recollection of who it was directed to, but they had a less than successful attempt at whatever they were supposed to be doing.  And his answer (with no audible sarcasm) was "Excellent!  That gives us lots of things to improve upon!"  hahaha oh dear.  I think that's the jumping version of "nice braids".  But it was a good example of the tone of the clinic.  He expected people to pay attention and give it a solid effort, but as long as you were doing that, he was very good at putting a positive spin on whatever he was telling you -- even when he was telling you you completely f'd up.  hahaha  He did ask at the beginning if we wanted to hear what was nice or what was true, but he couched his truth carefully when he presented it.  The NZ accent helps with that too *g*

The other thing which he did differently from almost every clinician I've ever been to is he changed the exercises in each group.  Any clinic I go to, I watch the whole thing (shy of having to leave to feed horses!)  I figure I can learn as much (sometimes more) watching as I can riding.  But in *most* clinics this gets to feel a little like you're being beat over the head as every group does exactly the same thing.  Heights and complexity might change but the same exercises in the same order.  And while that's all good for showing how said exercises can be useful at all levels, it makes it challenging to remain dedicated throughout the whole clinic.   Blyth took the opposite approach -- he used different exercises to effect the same changes.  The jumps stayed in the same places, so obviously there was *some* repetition.  But the warmup fence differed from group to group.  The order of exercises (and indeed even *which* exercises were included) changed between groups.  The focus also seemed to shift -- some spent a LONG time on the 4/5 adjusting while others spent a lot of time on riding a circle inbetween those same two fences.  And yet the end result -- confidently cantering courses in a balanced, rideable canter, was the same for all of them.  Very cool to watch.

Oh and Sasha the superpuppy was so incredibly well behaved!  She had tons of fun bouncing around playing with all sorts of people and dogs and rocks.  She came on our xc walk with Lexi and I.  But I left her with several different people throughout the day and she was always super-good.  I'm pretty excited about that!  Also have to say, it kinda made my heart melt that every time I looked over to her, she was watching me...

Alright - sleep now.  XC tomorrow!


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